COMMON AUTISM MYTHS
1. There is an autism epidemic.
As noted above this incorrect impression due to changes in diagnostic criteria and the availability of the first reliable autism diagnostic test in 1989. In addition, widely varying prevalence numbers have been created by relying on inaccurate data from public school enrollment records which are affected by school financing, administrative policies, and qualifications of school staff. It now appears autism has always been much more prevalent than thought in the 1960s and 70s. It is now estimated autism prevalence is about 1:150 to 1:300 births.
2. Autism is a psychological condition cause by “cold mothering.”
This destructive idea was proposed by child psychiatrist Bruno Bettleheim and has been proven false. There is no evidence parenting style is causally related to autism. While parenting methods can improve or worsen symptoms, they do not cause autism.
3. Autism is caused by MMR vaccine.
This erroneous notion was promoted by an English gastroenterologist who falsified information in a journal publication. He has subsequently been banned from practicing in England. There have been over 20 studies by independent groups in many countries that have all shown the same thing: There is no association between MMR vaccine and autism.
4. Autism can be cured.
There is currently no biological or biomedical cure for autism. Symptoms of autism can be greatly reduced or reversed among about half of children treated with intensive early behavioral intervention, but they nearly always persist is exhibiting some more subtle autism characteristics, including a tendency toward rigidity, social anxiety and somewhat odd, pedantic sounding speech. These children are usually placed with typical peers in school, but may receive some paraprofessional support. Among about half of treated children, their symptoms are greatly reduced but they continue to have significant autism symptoms, cognitive and language delays and are usually served in special education classrooms in school.
5. Children with autism, especially with Asperger Disorder have an exceptional hidden talent.
This notion has been fueled by such reports as Rain Man, who had Savant skills, which are very unusual. A small percentage of children with Asperger Disorder are exceptionally bright and may have special interests, such as science, technology or art, but that is the exception rather than the rule. Most other children on the Autism spectrum are like any other child who has interests, but no highly developed talent waiting to emerge. It is always a good idea to cultivate a child’s interests, but don’t expect miracles.
6. People with autism don’t have feelings like other people.
Individuals with autism have feelings just like everyone else. They are prone to exaggerated negative feelings (e.g. fear, anxiety, alarm, anger) but often have very limited way to appropriately express their feelings. Through effective intervention, most children with autism can improve these skills. Positive feelings (such as affection) are often expressed somewhat naively and perhaps too directly, but can be improved with time. It is very important young people with autism are taught how to more appropriately express their affectionate feelings for teachers and friends.
7. People with autism are incapable of developing social relationships.
That is a false idea due to the fact that earlier intervention methods were ineffective. Many children with higher functioning autism, PDD-NOS or Asperger Disorder have warm, close relationships with their families and friends, but typically they have far fewer close relationships than their peers. Many people on the autism spectrum are very comfortable spending a good deal of time by themselves and are often not as driven to seek out friends to “hang out” with as are typical teenagers.
8. As adults, most people with autism live in institutions or specialized treatment centers.
Today, most young adults with autism live with their families longer than same age peers, but increasingly they are living either alone or in supported living arrangements with typical peers or occasional support by a professional who helps look after their finances and health issues. Some are living in transition arrangements similar to college dorms. Before the advent of autism early intervention in 1987 many adults with autism ended up languishing in state institutions.